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In A Recorded Call, Trump Pushed Official To Overturn Georgia Vote

NOEL KING, HOST:

On a recorded phone call, President Trump asked a Georgia official to help him steal the state's electoral votes. He told Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, to, quote, "find" votes for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have, because we won the state. And flipping the state is a great testament to our country.

KING: Raffensperger calmly replied that the president had his facts wrong. There are also two crucial Senate races in Georgia tomorrow. With me now, Stephen Fowler, the Georgia Public Broadcasting reporter who obtained that call recording, and NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Good morning, guys.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Morning.

KING: Stephen, what's on the call?

FOWLER: So President Trump, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and some attorneys were speaking to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger running through a litany of social media conspiracy theories and baseless allegations about Georgia's election. Now, Raffensperger and his attorney patiently refused these allegations and refuted them. Here's one exchange where they're trying to knock down a false claim about people from out of state voting in Georgia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You know, you have all these different people that voted, but they don't live in Georgia anymore. What was that number, Cleta? It was a pretty good number, too.

CLETA MITCHELL: Well, the number who had registered out of state after they moved from Georgia. And so they had a date when they moved from Georgia, they registered to vote out of state, and then - it's like 4,500. I don't have that right in front of me.

TRUMP: And then they came back in, and they voted.

MITCHELL: And voted, yeah.

TRUMP: That was a large number, though. It was in the 20s. And, you know, the point is...

RYAN GERMANY: We've been going through each of those as well. And those numbers that we got, Ms. Mitchell was just saying, they're not accurate. Everyone we've been through are people that lived in Georgia, moved to a different state, but then moved back to Georgia legitimately.

FOWLER: That is the secretary of state's office general counsel, who said that - you can just hear that they've gone through the facts and said, no, this isn't true. Here's another segment where the president is pretty explicit about what he wants to see.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you've recalculated because the 2,236 in absentee ballots, I mean, they're all exact numbers that were done by accounting firms, law firms, et cetera. And even if you cut them in half, cut them in half and cut them in half again, it's more votes than we need.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

KING: Sue Davis, this is part of a pattern that the president has been engaging in since the election.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, you know, it's extraordinary to hear it stated so plainly, but it's been a very public effort and a failing effort by the president to overturn election results with no evidence of fraud in Georgia or any other state. Republicans have largely stayed silent on the call. There's no surprise there. But Democrats on Capitol Hill yesterday condemned the president's ongoing efforts to try to manipulate this election.

Dick Durbin's the No. 2 Senate Democrat. He's poised to take over the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said it merits a criminal investigation. And this is how House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment inquiry, described it to reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: I think it is among the most despicable abuses of power of his long list - possibly criminal, morally repugnant, virulently antidemocratic and dangerous to our democracy.

DAVIS: Noel, from a practical standpoint, there's not much congressional Democrats can do here, even as some other lawmakers described it as an impeachable offense because Trump obviously is set to leave office in just a few weeks.

KING: And in fact, on Wednesday, the House and Senate will convene to certify Joe Biden's win in the Electoral College. Some Republicans have said they'll object.

DAVIS: A fair number of them. You know, the president still has a significant number of allies on Capitol Hill willing to do his bidding on this and legitimize it. At least 50 House members and at least a dozen in the Senate plan to object to certifying certain state results this week. It's a doomed effort from the start, but it's certainly a way to show a political display of loyalty to the president and to his voters. And I think that's very tempting, particularly to Senate Republicans who might be harboring their own presidential ambitions in four years.

It really has driven a wedge between congressional Republicans. You know, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried very hard to prevent any senators from joining this effort. But a quarter of his own members are openly defying him on this. It will absolutely fail. It could get a little ugly on the floor and it could push the certification into the early morning hours. But the outcome, Noel, is not in doubt. Joe Biden will be certified the winner of this presidential election.

KING: And then, Stephen, we have these two Senate races in Georgia. How did they come up on the call between President Trump and state officials Saturday?

FOWLER: Well, pretty prominently because Trump appeared to at least partly blame Raffensperger, who again, is a Republican, for what could be lower turnout in the GOP side for Tuesday's runoffs. Trump added that Raffensperger would be, quote, "respected if this thing could be straightened out before Tuesday." And here's more of that exchange.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: The people of Georgia are angry. And these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night along with others that we're going to have by that time, which are much more substantial even.

FOWLER: The president is holding a rally tonight for Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and plans to focus on these things that he discussed in this call, which is these debunked claims of frauds - basically, the last thing you want if you're a Republican trying to win an election to maintain the Senate majority. There have been concerns that Trump is harming the chances by so continuously undermining the integrity of the state's elections.

KING: And, Sue, it's almost impossible to overstate how important these two elections in Georgia are.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, you know, I think Republicans are seen as having the home turf advantage. They have a good long record of winning specials in Georgia. They have the power of the incumbency. But if Democrats were to win both of these seats, it would scramble every single calculation about power in Washington that Joe Biden will face in his first two years in office. The majority means everything in the Senate - who runs the committees, what legislation comes to the floor, how easy it would be to confirm Biden's Cabinet and other nominees.

And at the same time, if Republicans hold the Senate, Biden would be facing a much tougher road and a very narrow Senate to advancing any of his legislative ideas. Also, remember that House Democrats have a much narrower majority, which means they're either going to need to be big bipartisan consensus in the next Congress or absolute partisan loyalty - or party loyalty, and both of those things are pretty hard to come by right now.

KING: High stakes. NPR's Sue Davis and Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting, thank you both so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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